Saturday, May 23, 2009

Review: Waltz with Bashir

Waltz with Bashir
Dir. Ari Folman
Year: 2008
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 86mins

The most potent moment of Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir is the final minute. Tellingly, it is the only minute of the film not told in so-unstylised-it-becomes-stylised animation. That this so-called documentary (I don't think it's anything close to being one) is in animated form harms it in ways that only become clear during these final moments of real documentary footage featuring grieving wives and mothers on the destroyed streets of Lebanon in the early 1980s.

Animation as an art form can be incredibly powerful and films by Pixar have shown that audiences can respond to such emotional heart-tugging represented by things such as toys and robots, and yet I found every single character in this movie to be cold and awkwardly portrayed. There are genuine moments of art floating about in the movie - namely a hallucination sequence as well as an exhausting escape by sea that really are heightened by the animation - but there are images in here that are not done justice by Folman's decision to make the film the way that he has. Perhaps it is that it lends the subject matter a triviality that it most definitely does not deserve, or perhaps it's just that I just found an immediate disconnect between the idea that this was somehow a documentary in any way at all that made me feel let down by it.

What makes it a documentary I'm not entirely sure. It doesn't help that the animated format makes it impossible to determine who are real people and who are not and the same goes for scenes of brutal war. That the horrific acts portrayed within the film happened is not one I'm willing to debate (although the "waltz" proves dubious), but there is a distinct disconnect between the images being portrayed and the portrayal of them. They just do not have the impact that they should. In the end this watcher felt more than a little cheated that something as powerful and important was let down. It may have been a grand experiment, but it more or less failed to yield any substantial results. C


Edit JD raised a theory to me via Twitter that the movie was in animation to make those final moments be even more powerful than they otherwise may have been. I can't say I agree, since that one moment at film's end would prove powerful and evocative no matter what we had seen before it. There's nothing more heart-wrenching than grief and that would have come through no matter how much real life footage we had seen. It, in fact, just makes it more disappointing.

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